Posts Tagged ‘William Shatner’

NASA Film Explaining Their Plan to Return to the Moon

June 25, 2020

Here’s a short film from NASA. Narrated by William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, it explains that the space agency intends to return to the Moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed there fifty years ago. This time the agency intends to stay.

It discusses some of the problems that have to be overcome, like isolation, radiation, gravity and the harsh environment of space. To get there, NASA has produced the SLS -Space Launch System – rocket, the most powerful yet developed, to lift heavier payloads into space. The crew will be carried by a new space capsule specially developed for the mission, Orion. The film also states that they’re developing new instrument system for exploring the Moon with their commercial partners.

They want to create fully reusable lunar landers that can land anywhere on the Moon’s surface. The simplest way to enable them to do this is to create an orbiting platform – a space station – around the Moon. This will also contain experiments as well as humans, and has been called ‘Gateway’. Gateway has been designed so that it will move between orbits, and balance between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity.

It was discovered in 2009 that the Moon contains millions of tons of water ice. This can be extracted and purified for use as drinking water, or separated to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

They also state that the Moon is uniquely placed to prepare and propel us to Mars and beyond. The film also declaims that humans are the most fragile part of the mission, but humans are at the heart of it. NASA is going back for all humanity, and this time the Moon isn’t a checkpoint, but a way station for everything that lies beyond. Shatner ends with ‘Our greatest adventure lies ahead of us. We are going.’ This last sentence is repeated as a slogan by the many engineers, technicians, astronauts and mission staff shown in the video. They are shown working on the instruments, rocket engines, launch infrastructure, training aircraft, mission control centre, and the huge swimming pool used to train prospective astronauts in zero G. NASA’s staff and crew are both men and women, and people of all races, Black, White and Asian. One of the ladies is Black, clearly following in the footsteps of the three Afro-American female mathematicians who helped put America’s first men in orbit.

It also includes footage of the first Apollo astronauts walking to their Saturn V rocket and landing on the Moon, with computer simulations of the planned missions, as well as Mars and Jupiter.

From the video, it looks like NASA has returned to its original strategy for reaching the Moon. This was to build a space station between the Earth and Moon at which the powerful rockets used for getting out of Earth’s gravity well would dock. Passengers to the Moon would then be transferred to the landers designed to take them down the Moon. These would be less powerful because of the Moon’s lower gravity.

This was the infrastructure of lunar missions that Wernher von Braun originally intended. It’s the plan shown in Floyd’s journey from Earth to Clavius base on the Moon in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. America, however, needed to beat the Russians to the Moon in the space race for geopolitical reasons, and so chose to go directly to the Moon instead of building the intermediate space station. As a result, after the cuts of the 1970s, America and humanity never returned.

There was talk of a commercial mission to the Moon in the 1990s, using Titan-Centaur rockets assembled into a lunar vessel in orbit. Just as there were also confident predictions that by this year, humanity would have put an astronaut on the Moon. Or perhaps a taikonaut, the Chinese term for it. Stephen Baxter in an article on possible Mars missions in this present century suggested that the first person to walk on the red planet would be a Chinese woman. Who knows? The Chinese are making great strides in their space programme, so I think that’s still a real possibility.

 

Ren Wicks’ painting for NASA of 2019 mission to Mars, from Peter Bond, Reaching For The Stars: The Illustrated History of Manned Spaceflight (London: Cassell 1993).

Fifty years is far too long for us to have stayed away from the Moon. I can remember all the books on space from the 1970s and early ’80s which predicted that by this time there’d be holidays in space, orbital colonies, a base on the Moon and expeditions to Mars and beyond. These haven’t materialised. The last section of Shatner’s voiceover for the video was a piece of oratory designed to evoke JFK’s classic speech, in which he declared America was going to the Moon. ‘We intend, before this decade is out, to put a man on the Moon. We do this, and the other thing, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’

I wish NASA and all the other space agencies and companies around the world all the very best in realizing the ancient dream of taking people into space. Despite the economic and medical crises caused by the virus, I hope they are successful and in four years’ time put people on the Moon at last. And that this will be just the first in a series of further steps out onto the High Frontier.

As somebody whispered on that fateful day when the Saturn V rocket carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off, ‘Godspeed’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trailer for AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Series

June 24, 2020

Here’s another video that has zilch to do with politics. Apparently, the computer giant Apple has, or is launching, their own TV channel. And one of the shows they’ve made for it is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series of books. This is one of the works for which Asimov is best remembered, along with his Robot books – I, Robot, The Caves of Steel and others. I, Robot was filmed a few years ago with Will Smith playing a human detective investigating the suicide of a robotics scientist. Together with the chief suspect, a unique robot with free will and a mind of its own, Smith uncovers a conspiracy to take over the city with a new generation of robots. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful the movie was to them. Something tells me that they took a few liberties, but I don’t know.

I haven’t read Foundation either, but I gather it’s an epic about an academic, Hari Seldon, who invents the science of psychohistory. Using its techniques, he predicts that the vast galactic empire that is so ancient, no-one actually knows where Earth is anymore, is about to fall into a new Dark Age. He prepares for this by setting up the eponymous Foundation on a barren planet with the intention of collecting all human knowledge in preparation for the restoration of civilization. It’s one of the major influences behind both Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’ Star Wars. The heart of the galactic empire is Trantor, a world that has become one vast, planet-wide city. This is the model for Coruscant, the city planet which is the capital of the Republic and then the Empire in Star Wars.

The video shows scenes from the new series along with clips of others as they were being shot. There’s also a comment from the director or one of the producers, who says that Asimov was keenly interested in technology, and so would have approved of Apple making the series. There have been attempts to adapt Foundation before, apparently, but they’ve all failed due to the complexity and immense time span covered by the books. I do remember way back in the ’70s there was an LP version, where it was read by William Shatner. Less reverently, back in the ’90s one of the Oxbridge theatre groups decided to stage a play which combined it and Dr. Strangelove, titled Fundament! This ended with a Nazi scientist shouting, ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!’, just like the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Take a look at the trailer. It looks awesome, though unfortunately there have been movies where all the best bits were in the trailer, and the film itself actually dull. I hope this isn’t the case here. My problem with it at the moment is that it’s going to be on another streaming channel, which will mean having to subscribe to that, rather than getting it with a satellite/cable TV package.

Clive James on Nixon’s Interview with Henry Kissinger

July 7, 2018

One of the books I was reading in hospital was Clive James’ The Crystal Bucket (London: Picador 1981). As I said in a previous blog post, James was the TV critic for the Observer. He started out on the radical left, and ended up a Conservative, writing for the Torygraph. During the 1980s and 1990s, he had his own show, first on Channel 4 with Sunday Night Clive, and then on the Beeb with Monday night. In these, he zoomed up and down the information superhighway to bring you satirical comment on the news and interview stars like Peter Cook, William Shatner, and Sylvester Stallone’s weird and highly embarrassing, at least for him, mother.

James could be witty and intelligent, and in The Crystal Bucket he reviewed some of the programmes then being shown on the serious issue of the time. Like old Nazis and Fascists like Albert Speer and Oswald Mosley talking about Nazi Germany or their career as Fascists, without once admitting that they were genuinely persecutory anti-Semites, responsible or in Mosley’s case, criminally supporting a regime that murdered people in their millions for no other crime than their ethnicity or political orientation.

James also reviewed David Frost’s interview with Richard Nixon, in which America’s most notorious president until Trump tried to sound repentant for the horrors of his foreign policy, while actually not denying or repudiating them at all. This was the interview that was recently filmed as Frost/Nixon.

Frost also interviewed the man responsible for Nixon’s genocidal foreign policy, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger brought chaos, torture and death across the globe from the overthrow of Allende in Chile to the support of another Fascist thug in Pakistan. Of whom Nixon himself said that this thug was ‘a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. Kissinger’s massive bombing campaign was responsible for the rise in power of the Khmer Rouge, who became the leading opposition group against the Americans. And after they seized power came the genocides and massacres of Pol Pot’s Year Zero, in which 1-2 millions died.

The review’s particularly interesting for this passage. James was not a total opponent of the Vietnam War, and seems to have believe that the Americans were right to fight against the Viet Cong because of the horrors they would inflict on the rest of the country when they gained power. He criticised Frost, because he thought Frost had bought the whole anti-Vietnam War argument, and states that the Americans were justified in bombing North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia. They were just too brutal, as was Kissinger’s foreign policy generally, and his overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was criminal.

James wrote

Indeed Frost’s questioning, though admirably implacable, was often wide of the mark. Frost had obviously bought the entire ant-war package on Cambodia, up to and including the idea that the North Vietnamese had scarcely even been present within its borders. They were there all right. There was considerable military justification for US intervention in Cambodia, as even some of the most severe critics of Nixon and Kissinger are prepared to admit. ‘Now jusd a minude,’ fumed Kissinger, ‘with all due respecd, I think your whole line of quesdioning is maging a moggery of whad wend on in Indo-China. ‘

Well, not quite. Nixon and Kissinger might have had short-term military reasons for their policy in Cambodia, but the ruinous long-term consequences were easily predictable. Nor, despite Kissinger’s plausible appeal to international law, was there anything legal about the way he and his President tried to keep the bombing secret. In fact, they conspired to undermine the United States Constitution. Kissinger’s personal tragedy is that his undoubted hatred of totalitarianism leads him to behave as if democracy is not strong enough to oppose it.

Unfortunately his personal tragedy, when he was in power, transformed itself into the tragedy of whole countries. The most revealing part of the interview was not about South East Asia, but about Chile. It transpires that a 36 per cent share of the popular vote was not enough to satisfy Kissinger that Allende had been democratically elected. Doubtless remembering Hitler, who had got in on a comparable share of the total vote, Kissinger blandly ascribed Allende’s electoral victory to a ‘peculiaridy of the consdidution’. But Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of Great Britain by the same kind of peculiarity, and presumably Kissinger, if he were still ruling the roost, would have no plans to topple her. By what right did he topple Allende?

Kissinger couldn’t even conceive of this as a question, ‘Manipulading the domesdig affairs of another goundry’, he explained, ‘is always gombligaded.’It is not just complicated, it is often criminal. The Nixon-Kissinger policy in Chile was an unalloyed disaster, which delivered the population of that country into the hands of torturers and gave Kissingers’ totalitarian enemy their biggest propaganda boost of recent times. You didn’t have to be Jane Fonda to hate the foreign policy of Nixon and Kissinger. all you had to be was afraid of Communism.
(‘Maging a Moggery’, pp.226-228, 4th November 1979).

This shows up two things. Firstly, the sheer murderousness behind Hillary Clinton. Posing as the ‘woman’s candidate’ in the Democratic presidential election contest, and then again in the elections proper against Trump, she showed none of the deep feminine, and feminist concerns for peace and humanity, which have seen women across the world lead marches and protests groups against war and Fascism. Like the women in Chile who formed a group campaigning for the release of information on the victims of Pinochet’s coup who ‘disappeared’. I remember Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ back in the 1990s as part of a programme celebrating them and protesters like them. Hillary, instead, has shown herself every bit as much a military hawk and anti-democrat as the generals she surrounded herself with. I’ve no doubt that if she had won the election, we would now be at war with China and Russia. She’s also the woman, who glowingly boasted how she went on holiday with Kissinger, something that did not impress Bernie Sanders in the presidential debates.

It also shows up the Times. A few weeks ago, I posted up a bit I found in a book on the right-wing bias of the British media. This was an extract from the Times, in which one of their lead writers declared that Pinochet’s coup was entirely justified, because Allende only had 36 per cent of the vote and he couldn’t control the country.

Well, Thatcher had the same proportion of the vote, and there was widespread, determined opposition to her in the form of strikes and riots. But instead, rather than calling for her overthrow, the Times celebrated her election victory as a return to proper order, economic orthodoxy and the rest of the right-wing claptrap.

It shows just how thuggish and hypocritical Murdoch’s Times is, and just how much Hillary certainly didn’t deserve the support of America and its women. She’s been whining about how she’s been the victim of left-wing ‘misogyny’ ever since. But if you want to see what she really represents, think of Nixon, Chile’s disappeared, it’s campaigning women and Sinead O’Connor’s performance. O’Connor herself, in my opinion, is no saint. But she’s the better women than Hillary.

New Series Next Tuesday on the History of Science Fiction

May 8, 2018

According to the Radio Times there’s a new series on the history of Science Fiction beginning on BBC 4 next Tuesday, 15th May 2018 at 8.00 pm. Entitled Tomorrow’s Worlds: the Unearthly History of Science Fiction, it’s a four part series, the first of which is on space. The blurb for it says

Historian Dominic Sandbrook begins his exploration of one of the most innovative and imaginative of all genres with the topic that has perhaps intrigued its creative minds most: what lies beyond our planet. Contributors include William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Zoe Saldan and Neil Gaiman. (p.77).